The path for Blacks in sports management and coaching remains a hard one, and the treatment of veteran manager Dusty Baker last week only offered an ugly reminder of that. Baker’s lengthy managerial career most likely is now over after he was dumped by the Washington Nationals despite leading them to consecutive National League East Division championships. Baker’s fatal mistake: in both his years the Nationals lost in the NLDS, and thus were unable to break their track record of never having won a playoff series. This time the Nationals had made a dramatic comeback to win Game 4 against the Cubs in Chicago, then gotten a 4-1 lead against them in the climatic Game 5 in Washington D.C. with their best pitcher pressed into service trying to get the clinching victory. Unfortunately neither he nor the rest of the Nationals bullpen could hold the lead, and when it was over, the Cubs were back in the NLCS and the Nationals were out.
But making things even nastier were the fact that Baker wasn’t immediately fired. He put plans on hold for a trip with his family while awaiting word. It was bad enough that he’d only gotten a two-year deal from the Nationals to start, or that they hadn’t bothered to give him an extension after he won last year’s Eastern Division. Finally, 10 days after their Game 5 loss, the word came out that Dusty Baker had been fired. It later turned out that the decision was NOT made by the team’s general manager, but by its owner, who overruled the wishes of the person supposedly running the team on a day-to-day basis.
Prior to Baker’s assuming the job, they had finished near the bottom of the division. As has always been the case in his previous stops, Baker’s teams are competitive and usually make the playoffs. Unfortunately he’s never been able to take a team to a World Series title. He came close with the Giants, losing to the Angels in a seventh game after his club once again couldn’t hold the lead. He also took both the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds to the playoffs in his other spots.
The knock now on Baker is that at 68, soon to be 69, he’s too old school and not connected to the current wave of analytic thinking that now dominates MLB, especially among upper management. This trend has led to a host of college educated general managers and player personnel directors, some of whom don’t even have baseball playing experience. It goes without saying that the overwhelming majority are White, and this trend is one of the primary reasons why MLB now has just one Black and one Latino manager. A large number of Blacks and Latinos who’ve gone into sports do it after they finish their playing years. They are not finance or economic majors with Ivy League degrees, nor do they necessarily lean on a host of computerized statistical breakthroughs to make in-game decisions.
Increasingly, more general managers are also getting involved in daily on the field decisions as well as assembling personnel. While there were no reports of any tension or hostility between Baker and his general manager, there’s little doubt that the usual preference of the new analytics oriented general manager is for someone who also follows or closely believes in this approach to game management.
Meanwhile, flying in the face of that trend is Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts, now the only Black American manager in MLB. He’s won back-to-back National League Western Division crowns, and when the Dodgers ousted the defending champion Chicago Cubs in the NCLS, he had gotten them back in the World Series, where they go for their first title since 1988.
Sadly, the direction that MLB’s now going doesn’t make it look too likely a lot of people like either Dusty Baker or Roberts, who incidentally didn’t get even the courtesy of an interview from his hometown team the San Diego Padres when they had a managerial opening, are going to get many chances to be managers. The commissioner’s office might continue to talk about the need for diversity and inclusion in the sport, but right now they’ve got a problem at the top that only looks to get worse in the years to come.